16 Sep

This is the eleventh part of a longer tale, all of them having been posted on this site over the past eleven days. If you want to check up on the oddity that is my story it’s available here or on writerscafe (

There was the sort of silence that can mean anything or nothing, then Bernard looked up at Satan who was lurking, grinning that Cheshire Cat grin on his ruddy scabby face, just to one side of him.
“Philip was a good friend,” he said, a little stiffly.
“Yet you rejected him!” growled the Devil.
“It was because he was … unusual. I didn’t understand … I’ve never understood.”
“And you condemn what you admit you don’t understand?” barked his inquisitor. “How shallow! But come. I believe you’ve seen enough in my looking glass for the moment. It’s time for the day trip I mentioned!”
“Day trip? Are there days here, then?” asked Bernard, tongue in cheek. “I thought Eternity was just that – a spread of forever on the ether of the Universe!”
“Like butter on bread? What a quaint thought!” almost giggled Satan. “A mighty large slice of crusty brown, then! Come on, hurry or we’ll miss the bus!”
He marched off faster than Bernard could walk, and to his humiliation he found himself having to trot behind the swaying tail of his satanic jailer. And that’s what the relative relationship between them seemed to Bernard, that of prisoner and jailer.
At the far end of the huge cathedral-like space was a bus-stop. Bernard hadn’t noticed it earlier, but it was there as big and real as any bus-stop anywhere. There was something incongruous about it, something so out of place that Bernard looked around to see if there was a comical beggar sitting near it, with a hat for coins or even paper money. But there wasn’t. The bus-stop was no beggar’s prop but a real bus-stop as witness the ancient rickety bus that trundled up to it.
“Fares please!” barked the spirited driver, grinning from ear to ear as if laughing at a private joke.
“That’s enough of that!” reproved Satan. “You know where we’re going! And the fellow with me has a pensioner’s bus pass. He can’t show it here and now because it’s back in the land of the living, but you can take the honest word of Beelzebub that he’s got one!”
“Right you are, squire,” cackled the driver, “you are in a jolly mood this morning! So you’re off to show the scallywag what he’s missing, are you? You want him to become all jealous of the good time being had on the other side, the sweet music, the acres of little white daisies fresh for the plucking and the plaiting, all that kind of thing? And the angels, fair of flesh and bosom, wafting their fragrance here, there and everywhere? Or has he left a lady friend behind and does he want to weep for her? Crocodile tears, they’d be, by the look of him. Now hold on tight! Off we go and be warned, there might be some pot holes on the way. This road isn’t maintained as it should be, and that’s a fact! There are more blisters in its metal surface than in a dollop of Swiss cheese!”
“That’s enough idle chatter!” reprimanded the Devil, guiding Bernard to an empty seat. “Now hearken to me,” he continued, “as you know you’re destined for an Eternity in Hell on account of having lived a wasted and useless life, so I don’t want you to get any big ideas about the Authorities round here changing their minds, because that sort of thing never happens. But I do think your Eternity of sulphurous misery might well be made a tad more or less palatable by a taste of what you’re missing, and a chance to wave a hand at your old friend Philip…”
The bus did a tremendous jerk, and entered a tunnel that was only just big enough for it to fit in.
“Jeez, this is a tight fit!” called the driver as if he’d never driven that way before, “everyone breathe in and we just might make it!”
The tunnel went on for mile after mile, all in total darkness except for the dim glimmer of light from the bus’s barely incandescent headlight. Then, suddenly, in a blaze of splendour the bus roared into a totally different landscape from the one at the other end of the tunnel. Instead of shooting sulphurous smokes and flames and the stench of decay vast meadows and fields stretched for as far as the eye could see in every direction, interspersed here and there with small patches of woodland. Bernard could see that everywhere figures were moving almost randomly, and he was sure that the air was filled with the sound of singing, not just a small choir but a mass of choirs, thousands, no millions, of voices softly singing in harmony with each other.
“Heaven above!” barked the driver as the bus pulled in at a bus-stop with barely a jerk.
“We get off here,” announced the Devil. “Come on, fellow my lad, and enjoy a taste of a different Afterlife!”
Bernard glanced at him, and then gasped.
His companion still had the same face, but the sameness emphasised the difference between the ruddy-complexioned creature with horns and reeking of sulphur and this majestic figure, fair of hair and wearing a coronet of fragrant flowers on his god-like head. He looked down at Bernard and the expression on his face was benevolence itself, each laughter-line clearly one etched by time from sympathetic smiles and contented mirth. This was no devil, no fiend from hell, but God himself. That much was obvious, and Bernard sighed his pleasure at the thought.
“Is that still you?” he stammered.
His companion smiled broadly, and nodded. “This is my other land where I tend my sheep and conduct orchestras of lyres and flutes. And this is where I have brought you, for over there, in the distance, you can see a friend…” And he pointed.
Distance suddenly seemed no dimmer of clarity as Bernard spied, maybe a mile away but sharp and clear, the figure of his old University friend Philip, waving at him and smiling with a warmth that seemed to wash from him and soak the entire meadowland that lay between them with a fresh and loving fragrance.
“So he made it to Heaven?” enquired Bernard quietly, “and yet … I recall … he tried to tempt me to sin with him … he said he loved me and we all know how sinful that would be … and I rejected it! Why is this? Why is Philip happy and joyful in Heaven whilst I, who guarded against ill-doing, must suffer and linger in Hell?”
“You have the wrong idea of what is Sin,” said God, sadly. “For Sin is the opposite of Love, and Philip has only ever known love. See how he smiles and waves ….”
“And how he is naked,” gasped Bernard, blushing.
© Peter Rogerson 16.09.16


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